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“I’ve seen club owners make some daft decisions but Leicester City’s appointment of Claude Puel seems plain bizarre.
“It’s baffled, saddened and angered me all in one go.
“Baffled because I’m struggling to find a reason why my old club would make such an underwhelming appointment that’s hardly going to inspire a dressing room filled with players who were Premier League champs just two seasons ago.”
Those were the words of Stan Collymore in his Daily Mirror column after the Frenchman was named as Leicester’s replacement for Craig Shakespeare.
It’s fair to say there were a number of people who’d written Puel off before Leicester had even kicked a ball under his management.
Despite that, the Foxes have taken four points from his first two league games in charge, which really isn’t too bad at all, despite it still being early days for the former Southampton boss at the King Power Stadium.
Why the criticism?
There wasn’t much complaint from Saints fans when he was sacked at the end of last season.
Concerns had been raised all of last term about Southampton’s lack of goals, especially at home, with the Saints only scoring 17 times in the league at St Mary’s.
That was some drop off from the sixth place under previous manager Ronald Koeman.
But it wasn’t as if he had it all easy at Southampton.
He lost key players Sadio Mané and Vincent Wanyama before the season started, before captain José Fonte left for West Ham United last January.
Add to that Virgil van Dijk, probably his best player, suffered a long-term injury midway through the season that saw him sit out half of last campaign.
They did also reach the EFL Cup final – their first since 1979 – becoming only the second side ever, the first since Tottenham Hotspur in 1982, to reach the final without conceding a goal.
If you factor in the strain of both that competition and being involved in the Europa League, Puel’s time at St Mary’s can hardly be considered a complete failure.
A record of improving players
Despite his sacking at Southampton, Puel definitely brought out the best in Oriol Romeu, while Manolo Gabbiadini looked much brighter under him than he has under Mauricio Pellegrino.
Thierry Henry is a big fan of the Frenchman too.
“I played with him and had him as a fitness coach as well,” he told Sky Sports last year.
“He is a great guy and a good coach. He helped me work on bending the ball and stayed with me after training to develop my finishing. If you want to work and you are willing to listen, you are going to improve with Claude Puel.”
Leicester aren’t unfit, but Puel will definitely try and step it up a touch at the King Power – he reportedly beat his Lyon players in a bleep test during one of his first training sessions as OL manager.
Is he living up to negative stereotypes at Leicester?
Despite his record in England for being in charge of teams that can’t score, that hasn’t been a problem for the Foxes under Puel, with them scoring twice as they beat Everton before repeating the feat in a 2-2 draw with Stoke.
Under the Frenchman, the amount of shots attempted per game has gone up.
Their season’s average is 10.4, but in Puel’s two games in charge it is 11.5.
He seems to have given his side a freedom Southampton didn’t play with under him, with Riyad Mahrez and Demarai Gray being allowed to roam in the final third.
Gray was often on the fringes of the starting line-up under previous managers Claudio Ranieri and Shakespeare, but Puel appears to trust the winger, handing him starts in both of his games in charge.
The pair have both responded to the freedom given to them by their new boss too, with Mahrez scoring against Stoke and Gray against Everton.
Perhaps surprisingly, Leicester are creating more chances under Puel per game (9.5) than Shakespeare (6.8), while their average possession is also slightly higher – from 46 per cent to 48 per cent.
That’s actually still below his Southampton side of last season, who had 53 per cent possession and created an average of 10.3 chances a match.
Perhaps with strikers better at finding the back of the net – Puel’s Saints options of Gabbiadini, Charlie Austin and Shane Long have four league goals between them this season, while Jamie Vardy and Shinji Okazaki already have ten – the 56-year-old can prove himself at Leicester as someone capable of doing a decent job in the Premier League.